The Ten Commandments for Initiating and Sustaining an Undergraduate Research Program…and assessing while you’re at it.

Here at CurChem, we are fortunate to be able to share with you the wisdom of Dr. Tom Goodwin – a luminary in the field of undergraduate research. His philosophy and advice have guided the PUI research community. In this post we hear about Dr. Goodwin’s teaching and mentoring philosophies, his learning goals for his students, and from the faculty he has inspired. an entrepreneur and role model of undergraduate research constantly aiming to “do great science,” while simultaneously and firmly committed to giving his students the best learning and career mentoring. ~ Dr. Moses Lee, PhD – Professional Colleague, J. Murdock Charitable Trust and Georgia State University

Ten Commandments for Initiating and Sustaining an Undergraduate Research Program

10A while back for a talk I was giving at a symposium at a CUR National Meeting at North Carolina Central University, I prepared a list of “Ten Commandments” related to starting an undergraduate research program.  I have included the list below, as I believe that it sheds some light on some of the attitudes about, and approaches to, research that I try to exemplify to my undergraduate research collaborators.

  • Thou shalt BELIEVE in the educational value of undergraduate research
  • Thou shalt possess the “fire in the belly”
  • Thou shalt not whine, but rather thou shalt persevere
  • Thou shalt educate thine students, thine colleagues, thine alumni, the public, and thine administration on the values of research
  • Thou shalt be a resourceful opportunist
  • Thou shalt develop a good project that is feasible in thine context and get results to show proof of concept
  • Thou shalt seek advice from the experts and pursue collaborations
  • Thou shalt submit proposals
  • Thou shalt go to professional meetings (both with and without thine students)
  • Thou shalt publish, for it is the only way to establish credibility as a scientist with thine peers

(P.S. Thou shalt expect plagues of locusts anyway.)

My Philosophy of Engagement of Undergraduates in Research

Ideally, through our coursework, associated laboratories, research, senior capstone requirements (standardized exam and a literature-based research paper and oral presentation), and attendance at seminars and professional meetings, our students will acquire the knowledge, strategies, and skills outlined below.

Research Program Components and Desired Outcomes:


Students will be familiar with:

  • best leadership practices
  • best leadership strategies
  • various models and methods of leadership
  • exemplars of good leadership (Hendrix faculty and staff, alums, and other scientists)

Scientific Research Excellence

Students will be able to:

  • design and execute scientific experiments
  • develop the critical thinking skills necessary to assess and assemble facts and data
  • work effectively individually and in groups
  • troubleshoot and revise experiments
  • learn proper lab safety protocols
  • learn to deal with the frustrations from research failures

I knew [Tom] as one of the PUI Chemistry heroes who, through hard work in the CUR Chemistry Division, and later as a CUR President, made undergraduate research visible at the national level. ~Dr. Silvia Ronco – Professional Colleague, Research Corporation.

Scientific Literacy

Students will be able to:

  • acquire the facts necessary to understand science as citizens and practice it as scientists
  • critically evaluate the primary literature
  • develop an in-depth understanding of a particular scientific question

Professor Tom Goodwin has been an influential figure not just in the life of 100s of undergraduate students but in shaping the career of faculty members as well…He convinced me that it is possible to involve undergraduates in meaningful research projects, and he continues to be my go to person when an unsuccessful grant proposal leaves one frustrated.~Dr. Ram Mohan – Professional Colleague, Wendell and Loretta Hess Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, Illinois Wesleyan University

Scientific Communication

Students will be able to:

  • communicate science effectively in written and oral forms to scientists and non-scientists
  • learn to listen to science presentations intelligently and formulate questions

Scientific Ethics/ Responsible Conduct of Research

Students will be able to:

  • become familiar with the best practices and possible pitfalls in ethical research
  • assess the ethical implications of their research and its impact on our society and environment

I think like I’m up in a helicopter and I’m flying over my students, who are wading through a swamp. I have a bullhorn and I’m saying, Don’t go that way, there’s an alligator over there! Watch out!

I’ll wrap up by recalling when a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education asked about my philosophy of teaching.  I replied: “I think like I’m up in a helicopter and I’m flying over my students, who are wading through a swamp. I have a bullhorn and I’m saying, Don’t go that way, there’s an alligator over there! Watch out!”  That’s sort of the way I see my research mentorship as well; helping my students to avoid pitfalls and to see the forest and not just the trees.

19d9f87e-922b-4783-a06a-dc4d71a34b871~ Dr. Tom Goodwin is the Elbert L. Fausett Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Dr. Goodwin is the 2003 Carnegie/Case U.S. Professor of the Year (for baccalaureate colleges), 2010 CUR Fellows awardee, and a former CUR president. He will retire this May 2017 after a 39 year career at Hendrix.

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